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'This is the new normal,' Microsoft tells US workers: Work from home until further notice

Plus: President Biden wants businesses with 100+ staff to get vaccinated or test weekly

Microsoft will let its employees in the US continue working from home until further notice as the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread through the country. The Windows giant had planned to recall staff to their offices next month.

"This is the new normal. Our ability to come together will ebb and flow," Jared Spataro, corp veep for Modern Work at Microsoft, said on Thursday.

“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our US work sites in favor of opening US work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance.”

It’s the third time Microsoft has pushed back its office return date. In the optimistic days of March, it announced a low-capacity soft reopening of its Redmond headquarters for September 7. But by August, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading throughout the US, management decided October 4 was a better date.

Now, it’s given up trying to predict when staff can return to their desks and will, instead, play it by ear. Microsoft, and its professional social network LinkedIn, have promised to give employees a 30-day notice for when they expect people to return to their campus desks. Prior to that, it's on with living at work, sorry, working from home.

Microsoft’s leaders are also still grappling with how many days people should be in the office. Microsoft researchers and an academic analysed communication behavior between employees and published the results in a paper in Nature Human Behaviour.

It showed that although at least some staff prefer working from the comfort of their own homes, folks were less likely to collaborate and talk to one another if they were in different teams. Mixing home working and campus office time will alleviate some of those problems though it won’t eradicate them, Microsoft opined. The study showed we're working longer hours, too.

“Our new data shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work, as employee expectations continue to change,” said CEO Satya Nadella. “The only way for organizations to solve for this complexity is to embrace flexibility across their entire operating model, including the ways people work, the places they inhabit and how they approach business process.”

Never one to pass up a PR opportunity, Redmond also used the announcement to push a host of collaboration tools it just happens to sell.

Meanwhile, other Big Tech companies, like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, however, have set tentative office return dates for January, 2022. ®

Biden cracks the whip on vaccinations

Also today, President Joe Biden announced he has told the Department of Labor, via OSHA, to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to either ensure staff are vaccinated or to test them once a week for the virus. Organizations could be fined heavily per employee if bosses don't comply.

All government workers must be vaccinated, too, with no option for just getting tests. And there's more – the full list of measures is here.

"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," the President said.

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